Rus­sia claimed a cru­cial vic­tory over its ri­val dur­ing this fi­nal ‘Age of Sail’ en­gage­ment

History of War - - CONTENTS -

The Crimean War was a rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­flict in terms of the evo­lu­tion of mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy. Al­though it has since been char­ac­terised as tak­ing place ex­clu­sively on the Crimean Penin­sula, the war was ge­o­graph­i­cally wide­spread with a sig­nif­i­cant naval com­po­nent. Nowhere was this more em­pha­sised than at the Bat­tle of Sinop, which was fought off the north­ern coast of Turkey.

Dur­ing the ini­tial stages of the war, Rus­sia ini­tially fought the Ot­toman Em­pire by cross­ing the River Danube and in­vad­ing its Balkan ter­ri­to­ries. The Ot­tomans de­clared war on 4 Oc­to­ber 1853 while Bri­tish and French fleets moved up to Con­stantino­ple (Is­tan­bul) to guard against any Rus­sian naval at­tack from Sev­astopol. Both coun­tries were not of­fi­cially at war with Rus­sia at this point but fight­ing broke out in the Black Sea be­tween Ot­toman and Rus­sian ships.

Ot­toman con­voys were es­tab­lished to pro­vide a sup­ply cor­ri­dor to its army in Ge­or­gia. One of these was com­manded by Pa­trona (Vice Ad­mi­ral) Os­man Pasha but his ships were pre­vented from sail­ing by stormy weather. Os­man de­cided to win­ter at the port of Sinop where his con­voy was joined by frigates. The ad­di­tion of the frigates was im­por­tant be­cause al­though the Ot­tomans wanted to send ships of the line, they had been dis­suaded to do so by the Bri­tish am­bas­sador in Con­stantino­ple.

Mean­while, the Rus­sian Ad­mi­ral Pavel Nakhi­mov de­cided to at­tack Sinop be­fore the Ot­tomans could be re­in­forced with more ships. Os­man was aware of the Rus­sian naval pres­ence in the area but Sinop’s har­bour had very sub­stan­tial de­fences. Nakhi­mov as­sem­bled over 700 can­nons in six ships of the line, two frigates and three armed steam­ers. This force out­num­bered the Ot­tomans’ seven frigates, three corvettes, two steam­ers and no ships of the line.

The pres­ence of steam ships in both fleets was an im­por­tant sign of how naval tech­nol­ogy had de­vel­oped dur­ing the 19th cen­tury. Sail­ing battleship­s had ruled the seas for hun­dreds of years but their end as front line ves­sels was quickly ap­proach­ing. Steam-pow­ered war­ships had al­ready ap­peared dur­ing the Greek War of In­de­pen­dence (1821-29) and had also been used in naval op­er­a­tions on the Syr­ian coast and in the Adri­atic Sea. Wooden sail­ing ships were the pre­dom­i­nant ves­sels at Sinop, how­ever, there were other signs of in­dus­trial progress be­ing made as well.

The Rus­sians were equipped with Paix­hans guns – the first naval can­nons that could fire ex­plo­sive shells. Be­fore Sinop, the stan­dard mar­itime ar­ma­ment was smooth-bored can­nons that fired solid can­non­balls, shot or shrap­nel. Ex­plo­sive shells al­ready ex­isted on land for how­itzers and mor­tars but the high-pow­ered Paix­hans used a de­lay­ing mech­a­nism to al­low shells to be fired safely in a flat tra­jec­tory.

This would have a de­ci­sive ef­fect on the out­come of the com­ing bat­tle.


An ex­plo­sive am­bush

With their nu­mer­i­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity in ships and guns, the Rus­sians en­tered Sinop’s har­bour on 30 Novem­ber 1853 from the north­west in a tri­an­gu­lar for­ma­tion. This trapped the Ot­toman con­voy be­tween the Rus­sian ships and Sinop’s har­bour de­fences, the lat­ter of which ex­posed Os­man to po­ten­tial friendly fire. Nakhi­mov ma­noeu­vred to cover the har­bour in in­ter­lock­ing fields of fire by spac­ing his ships evenly in two lines. The Ot­toman ships ef­fec­tively be­came sit­ting tar­gets when the Rus­sians be­gan fir­ing shells.

Fires im­me­di­ately broke out among the Ot­toman ves­sels, which its pan­icked sailors found dif­fi­cult to ex­tin­guish. In less than one hour, the Rus­sians com­pre­hen­sively de­feated Os­man’s ships, with the ma­jor­ity of them be­ing pur­posely grounded. In ad­di­tion, an Ot­toman frigate and steamer were sunk and two shore bat­ter­ies de­stroyed. Only the 12-gun steamer frigate ‘Taif’ man­aged to es­cape the bat­tle while the Rus­sians re­ceived re­pairable dam­age to just three ships. Al­most 3,000 Ot­toman sailors were killed and 150 taken pris­oner, in­clud­ing Os­man. By con­trast, just 37 Rus­sians were killed and 229 wounded.

The Rus­sians now had op­er­a­tional con­trol of the Black Sea. Bri­tain and France re­garded the at­tack at Sinop as un­jus­ti­fied, which in­creased anti-rus­sian sen­ti­ment in West­ern Europe. The bat­tle was even­tu­ally used as the An­glo-french jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for declar­ing war on Rus­sia al­though the real rea­son was to curb per­ceived Rus­sian ex­pan­sion­ism.

A de­pic­tion of the bat­tle painted by Alexey Bo­golyubov (1824-96) who served in the Rus­sian Navy be­fore be­com­ing an artist

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